Travellers’ Alerts Raised for Measles Outbreaks in Europe and the USA

If you’re heading for Europe this summer, and especially if you’re travelling with children who have not been vaccinated for measles, see your doctor or a travel health clinic immediately and have yourselves and your children properly immunized against this dangerous and potentially deadly disease.

Most of us thought measles had been eliminated many years ago. But the epidemic raging across Europe shows just how resilient this highly contagious disease can really be.

According to Canada’s Travel Health website, as of the end of May 2019, large measles outbreaks (exceeding 1,000 cases) are currently ongoing in Albania, France, Georgia, Italy, Romania, Russia, Serbia, and Ukraine; and since the beginning of 2019, serious outbreaks have also been reported in virtually all other European nations, including such highly developed countries as Germany, the UK, Spain, and Switzerland.

According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDPC), 35,000 cases of measles and 14 deaths have been reported in Ukraine over the first three months of 2019; and 3,789 cases of measles have been reported in other countries across the continent—the highest numbers in Romania, France, Poland, and Lithuania.

Travel Health Canada recommends Canadians travelling to Europe take the following precautions:

  • Those born before 1970 should have received at least one dose of measles vaccine, or have laboratory evidence of immunity (e.g., through blood testing), or be considered immune due to a history of confirmed measles;
  • Those born in 1970 or later should make sure they have received two doses of the measles vaccine;
  • And infants (six to 12 months of age) should have started their routine series of immunizations.

According to the ECDPC, some 4.5 million young people in Europe are at risk for catching measles due to lack of vaccination, and an analysis of vaccination rates across Europe shows that at least four per cent of people born in the region since 1999 are not fully protected against the disease.

The ECDPC further reports that in Italy, more than a million young people (to age 20) have not been fully vaccinated. The agency also reports that only four countries in Europe have immunized at least 95 per cent (a defined public health target) of their children against measles (Hungary, Portugal, Slovakia, and Sweden).

Measles alert is also up for the US

And if Europe is not on your summer itinerary but you’re planning to travel south of the border, be aware that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that so far this year, up to May 24, 940 individual cases of measles have been confirmed in 26 states—the greatest number since 1994 and since measles was declared eliminated in 2000.

These states include many that are considered high tourism targets for Canadians: Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Maine, Michigan, New York, Nevada, Texas, Tennessee, and Washington.

The Travel Canada website warns that if you are returning to Canada by air and you notice symptoms that might be related to measles (fever, cough, small white spots inside the mouth and throat, red blotchy patches on the face or body), you should tell the flight attendant before you land or the border services officer as you enter the country so you might be immediately assessed. Vigilance is crucial to keeping measles controlled. This is not a harmless childhood rite of passage. It’s dangerous. Take no chances.

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